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11:05 AM
Deb Smallwood, SMA
Deb Smallwood, SMA

3 Models for the Insurance Innovation Process

What is innovative today will be expected tomorrow. Here's how insurers can get there.

"What is innovative today will be expected tomorrow," is a powerful insight — and it came from one of the roundtable breakout groups during the 2013 SMA Summit at the Mandarin Oriental in Boston on September 16. SMA hosted nearly 130 insurers and solution providers, who gathered for an all day summit to listen, network, and share ideas on Innovation for Advantage: Energize, Transform, Differentiate, SMA's theme for the 2013 event. The day followed an energetic and dynamic schedule, with a mix of prominent speakers, panels, conversational interviews, interactive live polling, a roundtable breakout, and Q&A.

I opened the day by challenging the attendees to think differently about innovation in their own organizations. I wanted to set the stage with some compelling research results, demonstrating that innovation is happening in a big way within the insurance industry. SMA research has shown that a remarkable 87% of insurers say that innovation is occurring at some level, and 20% have already established a strong innovation culture in their organizations. The vast majority of insurers view innovation positively and regard it not only as a way to develop big, game-changing ideas, but also to make small incremental changes. I shared SMA's 3 keys to embracing innovation and developing the changes businesses want to see: they must energize, transform, and differentiate. Next-gen technologies such as big data, analytics, and mobile are here to stay. The day then featured guest speakers and panel discussions, where the 3 keys to embracing innovation for advantage were highlighted:

1. Energize — Formalize ideation within your organization. In order to get the necessary energy behind an idea, invention, or change it needs to be well structured. The morning sessions featured industry experts from insurance companies where innovation has helped to make significant impacts in their own organizations. For example, Scott Good, Senior Director, Customer Innovations at Scottsdale Insurance Company, suggested an organization might start with having an innovation day where leaders listen to the needs of their customers and imagine solutions to fit those needs and make their lives easier. He explained that having a customer focus allows you to focus on needs first. He challenged attendees to hold an innovation day within their own organizations where they predicted the competitive landscape 18 months, as well as three and five years, out. This may be challenging and scary for some, he said, but in the end predicting and thinking for the future will make you smarter in the long run and inform your decisions in the present.

[Smallwood's three elements of innovative insurers]

Janet Deskins, Chief Product Officer for TransAmerica, Life and Protection, furthered the notion of sponsoring formal ideation sessions. She talked about TransAmerica's innovation cafes, where employees of all levels can gather and dream big about where they'd like to see change. TransAmerica calls their employees "tomorrow makers" and encourages them to "declare" ideation, providing a great example of an insurer that has woven innovation and ideation into the culture of everyday business. Janet then challenged the attendees to ask themselves what it would take for innovation to succeed in their organizations and to begin to work on creating that environment immediately.

2. Transform — Use new technology differently. Big data and analytics are here, and the possibilities for using the data in new ways are changing daily. Even so, this new technology will soon be commonplace. The challenge insurers now face is to begin to look at ways to use the data differently, whether it be to improve processes or to better inform policy. I spoke with Doug Ross, Vice President and Chief Technology Officer of Western & Southern Financial Group, about precision-Driven Growth and Profit in underwriting. I introduced a new concept in big data and analytics that the NFL is using to analyze the 40-yard dash in recruiting: Not only are they measuring the speed at which an athlete completes the run, but they are now measuring and gathering data on arm movement, rapidity and number of breaths, heart rate, and even foot print patterns. The rationale behind the NFL's collection of all this data is to better inform the large investment they will potentially make in an athlete. They want the most information possible before they sign a deal.

The same can be said of insurance's embrace of big data and analytics in their underwriting processing. The Summit featured many transformation best practices as well. Judy Haddad, EVP and CIO/CTO at Patriot National Insurance Group, described the company's success in moving its claims process from 110 steps down to 11 steps. The transformation success resulted from involving every level of employee in the process, making sure everyone understood what changes they were trying to achieve, and including the solution provider in every step of the process. Judy advised that in any transformation, you need champions and cheerleaders along the way to applaud incremental successes. Dan Colarusso,SVP of Insurance Operations and CIO for the Cypress Insurance Group, shared a transformation success story of how they were able to automate underwriting and renewals processes. The benefits, besides achieving a significant cost savings (24 month ROI), were that agents now had self-service opportunities. The key to achieving this transformation, Dan explained, was through collaboration and involving all sectors of the business in the change. Collaboration and listening are critical success factors to achieving a large scale transformation, and in the case of Cypress, are elements that have delivered exponential payoffs.

3. Differentiate — Look to other industries to gain advantage. SMA Partner Mark Breading led a panel discussion on Customer Experience with Hugh Anderson, Senior Industry Principal, SAP Financial Services/Insurance; Brian Piccolo, Director, Digital Strategic Services at Liberty Mutual; Simon Thompson, Global Director of Commercial Solutions at ESRI; and Scott Good of Scottsdale Insurance. The panel shared insights into the importance that the customer plays in innovation and making change, and how customers base preferences and expectations on other industry standards. Mark opened the discussion by noting that insurers can look to other industries for innovation examples, but must also recognize some of the unique characteristics of the insurance industry. He used the example of movie theaters going upscale by adding power reclining chairs or offering restaurant-style dining in the theater. The result is a completely transformed movie going experience. So too, can insurers, even with complex products, complex organizations, and complex customers, make small changes to innovate and gain advantage. The panel members confirmed Mark's assertion that small changes can quickly become the standard or customer/consumer expectation. In addition, the panelists stressed the importance of research to the process. Research is critical for understanding the data and information your organization is already gathering, as well as gaining competitive advantage.

So, until next year, continue to explore the possibilities. The SMA Summit is a one-of-a-kind event. Where else in the industry can industry leaders from both business and IT gather with their peers and solution providers in an open, honest format and discuss the most pressing issues of the day? The Summit will continue to push the boundaries of traditional insurance events and begin to offer sessions throughout the year where insurers can share and exchange information about innovative solutions. SMA will continue to honor the robust discussions held at the Summit by continuing the dialogue all year through social media, our research, our Insurers Forum, and continued webinar opportunities. This will all be brought to new heights at the 2014 SMA Summit, where the theme will be "The Power of Innovation and Transformation."

About the Author: Deb Smallwood, the Founder of SMA, is recognized for her expertise in investing in technology to influence competitive advantage in the insurance industry. She offers a fresh perspective on how business capabilities can be enabled to meet strategic goals. Exclusively serving the insurance industry, Strategy Meets Action blends unbiased research findings with expertise and experience to deliver business and technology insights, research, and advice to insurers and IT solution providers. Deb can be reached at [email protected]

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